I can always count on my dad to get me a great book (or two!) for Christmas, and this year was no exception. It’s taken me longer than it probably should have to read its 150 or so pages, but I have just finished Pulpit Crimes: The Criminal Mishandling of God’s Word, a new title by James R. White.
I recommend this book! If you are in the ministry, especially if you haven’t been “around the block yet” and are still new to your tasks, or if you are hoping to one day be in the ministry, this book contains invaluable details concerning what not to do and say when standing behind that pulpit.
And if you are not in the ministry, I still recommend the book to you. It will certainly help equip you in recognizing what is biblical and what is not from those who are in church leadership, enabling you to better obey the Bible’s commands to both try the spirits and to test all things, holding fast that which is good. Hopefully, though, there is some good, godly leadership in your church already, and Pulpit Crimes will likely make you appreciate that fact all the more!
As Shawn, who was also reading the book last I heard, pointed out, most of the information will be familiar to you if you follow James White’s weblog & netcast, but if you do not, you will enjoy and hopefully benefit from the book.
James begins the book by briefly giving an overview of what that preaching thing is all about. What are pastors to do? What does it mean to stand behind a pulpit and preach? How do man’s ideas of this task line up with what the Bible teaches? These are important questions that should be able to be answered biblically by anyone who stands before the flock and seeks to deliver unto them the Word of God in sermon.
The bulk of this book, as the title suggests, involves what not to do as a preacher. Trying to be as general as possible to make the book less tied to one time period (though if you are familiar with “Christian” television, you’ll recognize some celebrity preachers by their crimes even without their names being given), James describes various ways in which the act of preaching is being misused and abused by those within Christendom.
The “Rap Sheet,” as he calls it, includes the following crimes:
- “Prostitution” — The exchanging of truth for a lie, motivated by a love of money. This crime is epitomized by the “name it and claim it” movement.
- “Pandering to Pluralism” — The rejection of vital gospel truths in order to appeal to a wider audience, such as presenting Jesus Christ as one way among many rather than the Way.
- “Cowardice Under Fire” — Compromising biblical truth or refusing to take a stand for it against the world, leaving the flock with no true protection.
- “Entertainment Without a License” — Louder music, fancier lights, better bands, and a happier crowd. Leave a few minutes to say a sermonette that fit the entertainment, but make sure it isn’t too long so people don’t get bored after all the excitement of “worship.” As James says, “This is a pulpit crime of immense proportions.” It’s also the reason why I can’t in good conscience watch that “Christian” television station anymore.
- “Felonious Eisegesis” — Eisegesis, for those who don’t know, involves forcing a meaning into a text that doesn’t belong there, reading one’s opinions into a text, and so on. Regarding the Bible, eisegesis involves silencing the God-breathed Scriptures, supplanting their truth with the doctrines and traditions of man. James pays special attention to those who would try to make homosexuality acceptable by wresting the Scriptures to make it so.
- “Cross Dressing” — Women behind the pulpit. James examines the biblical evidence, which (leaving eisegesis [see above] out of the equation) plainly says women ought to remain silent in the assemblies. As he says, “There surely is no question, however, that some of the leading heretical teachers in the post-evangelical world today are women, and they have garnered a wide and influential following.”
- “Pulpit Fiction” — What happens when a preacher becomes a superstar? Just like with Hollywood’s celebrities, personality cults arise, and eventually the superstar preacher falls away from the truth and into diverse errors, even to the point of preaching false gospels.
- “Body Count” — Church membership, discipline, fellowship, and familiarity is vitally important. Reading this chapter tonight not only made me long for a church home and more consistent Christian fellowship. But it also pointed out the dangers of making an increase in numbers the end itself rather than a side effect of the genuine growth that God causes. This chapter is a cry in the wilderness, and I would recommend the book for it alone.
- “Identity Theft” — What happens when baptism and the Lord’s Supper no longer resemble their biblical prototypes? What happens when Christians no longer understand the vast and eternal importance of these ordinances of the church? I used to wonder why church discipline was a big deal, but when the communion supper is given its due importance, to be forced by the church to go without it would be punishment. I have never heard the Lord’s Supper described as James has in this book, and I am simply amazed at how naively I have partaken of it in the past and at how little importance, majesty, awe, and reverence accompanied such an amazing event! I’m going to have to include this along with “Body Count” above as being a chapter which is worth the price of the book itself!
- “Warranty Fraud” — What happens when the gospel is preached in such a shallow, empty way that all it takes to “get saved” is a momentary thought about Jesus, without any regard to genuine faith, sorrowful repentance, continuance in good works, and so on? What happens when it is preached that all it takes is that momentary thought to get one’s “ticket punched” for Heaven, without ever taking care to ensure the person is genuinely saved, without no instruction to them to make their calling and election sure? How many millions are going to Hell clinging to a false hope, a momentary feeling of warm fuzziness brought on by an entertaining (see above) preacher man and his band? James says, “This kind of teaching is not just imbalanced; the Bible identifies it as false and deceptive, and, since it leads many to a false assurance, it is a pulpit crime on the felonious level.”
James concludes the book by asking, “Where are the cops?” What can be done with all of this? Check the book out. Buy one for a friend in seminary, share a copy with your church leadership. Maybe they are doing everything right; if they are, I think this book would be encouraging to them, letting them know that they are on the straight & narrow and that they aren’t abusing their authority as a shepherd to the flock. You’ll probably want to let them know you gave them the book as an encouragement and not to say, “Hey, I couldn’t help but think of you as I read a couple of these chapters; you might want to give it a read!” ;-)
Still on my reading list, in not really any order, are the following:
- The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out by Mark Driscoll
- Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics by R.C. Sproul
- Commentary on Romans by Martin Luther
- Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper
- Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? by John Piper
- What Is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics by R.C. Sproul
- What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper
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